Skip to Main Content


The Global Migration Crisis, International Law, And The Responsibility To Protect Health

By | Leave a Comment

This post was written by Lawrence O. Gostin, University Professor at Georgetown University and O’Neill Institute Faculty Director and Anna Roberts, O’Neill Institute Law Fellow.  It was originally published in the Health Affairs Blog on September 29, 2015, and the excerpt is posted here with permission of the authors.  The views presented here are their own. Any questions or comments can be directed to

The world is experiencing the greatest forced migration crisis since World War II — originating in fragile states in the Middle East and Africa and now spilling over to Europe. Nearly 60 million asylum seekers, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled their homes to escape conflict, violence, and starvation.
This global migration crisis shows no sign of abating, with intense political discord in host countries compounded by a failure of the international community to develop appropriate and sufficient strategies to assist the displaced. A divided European Union (EU) voted to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers, even though it currently hosts some half-million asylum seekers. The United States plans only to raise its annual refugee cap from 70,000 to 100,000 by 2017, which won’t make a dent in assisting the outpouring of humanity crossing international borders daily.
Mass forced migration poses major health hazards for those on the move, including increased risk of physical and sexual violence, mental distress, and scarcity of food, water, and shelter. The risk of epidemics is heightened through over-crowding, decreased hygiene, unsanitary conditions, and exposure to disease vectors (e.g., rats and mosquitos). Forced migrants also have limited access to preventative services such as vaccines, essential medicines, and basic health care, including safe childbirth. Lower-income states, with weak health systems, host the vast majority of migrants, which burdens their already fragile health and social security systems. However, even for those forced migrants who make it to high-income states, there are barriers to health care access such as culture, language, geography, and limited state benefits.
The full post can be accessed at Health Affairs here.

Thematic Areas:

Comments are closed.

The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

See the full disclaimer and terms of use.